Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Transitional Moment for Sake

Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a change in international policy that will change the way American consumers drink and buy sake.

From now on, in the U.S., “Japanese sake” will be protected under the Geographic Indicators laws—the same ones that say Champagne can come from only one region in France, and Parmigiano Reggiano can be labeled as such only if it comes from one specific area of Italy. In exchange, Japan will similarly recognize the terms “Tennessee Whiskey” and “Bourbon Whiskey.”

These distinctions are important because of whiskey’s popularity in Japan and sake’s increasing prevalence in the U.S. At the moment, an estimated 70 percent of the sake sold in the U.S. is made domestically, thanks to California-based producers such as Ozeki and Takara as well as newer, small-scale operators such as Dovetail, in Massachusetts, and Oregon’s SakeOne. But you may not know it, because all sake that’s sold in the U.S., whether it comes from Japan or not, has been labeled simply “sake”—until now.

A Transitional Moment

Naming aside, sake has been undergoing a change on both sides of the Pacific as brewers experiment with the rice-wine fermentation process to get a broader variety and depth of tastes.

It’s all about doing less to get more, says Beau Timken, owner of San Francisco-based True Sake, the first sake-only store in the U.S. when it opened in 2003. “They’re getting bolder, bigger, more prominent flavors, and more layers of flavor” by letting the sake do what it wants to do. For most breweries, that means pulling back on additions such as lactic acid and water and doing things the way their great-grandfathers did.

Producers such as Shiokawa, Born, and Dassai are creating richer, more complex sakes that add new layers of spice and textural interest to their sakes. Such venues as San Francisco’s Nara, New York’s Momosan Ramen & Sake, and Sosharu in London are offering chances to see a the new, wider range of today’s sake.

Premium sake—not the hot stuff served at your sushi takeout joint—is mostly junmai, pure rice sake, as opposed to honjozo, which includes a small amount of brewer’s alcohol to lighten the texture and the body, or futsushu, the mass-market value buys that make up nearly 80 percent of the market.

In the junmai category, taste can vary significantly as well, depending on how much the rice is milled. Straight junmai is the least milled and is typically earthy and full-bodied; daiginjo is the least milled and often floral and silky. Ginjo is somewhere between those two.

The Terms to Know

A label may not have words like “natural” or “no added alcohol,” but sake brewers like to let you know what they’re doing. So here are four terms, besides “Japanese sake,” to look for:

by Jim Clarke, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Innovative Dining Group